At the Senate HELP Committee hearing “Fulfilling the Promise: Overcoming Persistent Barriers to Economic Self-Sufficiency for People with Disabilities,” Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, unveiled a report that he instructed his HELP Committee staff to investigate the barriers that people with disabilities face as they seek to rise out of poverty and enter the middle class....The main issue for people with disabilities over the past quarter century has been one of greater access to public services, businesses, entertainment, telecommunications, and almost every aspect of American life. Unfortunately, twenty-four years after the signing of the ADA, Americans with disabilities remain disproportionately poor and face significant barriers to joining and remaining in the middle class. Despite the greatly increased access, however, people with disabilities remain far more likely to be impoverished, to be out of the workforce, and to be experiencing the detrimental effects of living in poverty.
The full report can be found here.Some excerpts dealing with autism (emphasis added):
- Individuals with disabilities have the added cost of requiring or needing additional time to perform tasks and accomplish activities that someone without a disability does not have to consider or expend. For example, preparing for work in the morning may take an individual without a disability 45 minutes, including getting out of bed, washing, dressing, and eating breakfast. For a person with a physical disability, an autism spectrum disorder, a sensory disability, or an intellectual disability, the amount of time to accomplish the same tasks may be 90 minutes to more than three hours. This additional time is a huge cost burden that decreases the amount of time an individual has to prepare for daily tasks, work, or care for their own family members.
- Another cost is the limitation in choices for some people with disabilities. Because of auditory processing or sensory input concerns, some individuals with chronic mental health disabilities or autism spectrum disorder, cannot use generally available public services. Many respondents indicated that crowded public transportation was not an option for them because of their disabilities. One person with a traumatic brain injury indicated he could not use public transportation because the tactile and auditory input overwhelmed him and he could not function after riding the bus or train.
- Respondents also reported what they considered unreasonable requirements to receive support services and a lack of knowledge about accommodations for people with disabilities. A young man with autism in the Southwest stated he had applied for SNAP benefits. As he stated, “the law require[d] 40 job search hours per week, but transportation did not count, neither did time on the phone, and neither did Internet time unless it was at the Workforce Solutions office. I wasn’t able to meet these requirements because of transportation and other issues and would repeatedly lose food stamps after a week and have to reapply. When I asked for assistance and said I needed a reasonable accommodation—among other things, not knowing how to make a resume, I was told they had ramps (which I don’t need).”
- Some respondents recognized that it was not necessarily the fault of the representatives of these programs that caused problems, but the lack of adequate funding for necessary services. A middle-aged man with autism in the Pacific Northwest said, “The existing support systems are simply overwhelmed. The need is far greater than the available resources. The focus in my region is on mental health & substance abuse recovery, not dealing with developmental disabilities…I have experienced first-hand how little is known about helping individuals with developmental disabilities. Most of us are in mental health systems that often admit they have had little or no training in working with people like me.”
- Some of the respondents told about outright prejudice regarding their disabilities. A young man with autism learned that revealing his disability would often cause more problems for him rather than allow him to work with his supervisors to develop accommodations. When describing disclosing his autism to his manager he said, “ I once disclosed to a manager confidentially because I thought it would make things easier, only to have her tell the rest of the management team and have them ‘very concerned’ about it. This was the one job I had a union rep, and he told them it had nothing to do with my job and that was not something she was supposed to go around telling everyone, not that that did much at that point. I did get the message to stop telling people.”
- Respondents repeatedly reported interviews that were cut short once a potential employer discovered the individual had a disability. One middle-aged man with autism said, “I have had more 15-minute interviews than I can count with people who were impressed with my credentials on paper but were crestfallen to find they belonged to me. Most recently, I failed in a group interview process even though the director personally recruited me.”
- A young woman with autism also highlighted the lack of understanding regarding accommodations and prejudice for those who request accommodations. She said, “[If you] need an accommodation like working in a quiet corner with less bright lighting…you're almost guaranteed to not get hired. Skills and abilities take a backseat to fitting in the corporate culture. What is needed isn't more legislation. What we need is education. Employers need to know that basic accommodations aren't that much of a burden, and workers with developmental disabilities need to learn to ask for what we really need in accommodations. But that's not happening. And we're not getting hired. No matter how good we are.”